AEE 416: A Few Small Talk Topic Taboos with Jennifer Kumar from Authentic Journeys

cross-cultural differences- small talk- US-India Jennifer Kumar
Are you making any small talk topic taboos when do you do business across cultures? Find out today!
Small talk can be a tricky topic when it comes to interacting across cultures.
While one topic is polite and almost required in one culture it can be a huge taboo in another culture.
Today we have a special guest on the show to clear up any small talk confusion you might have.
Jennifer Kumar works as a cross-cultural trainer and coach in India.
She works primarily with Indian professional who do business with American companies.
Key differences in small talk between India and the US:
  •  Greetings: In the US we tend to say “Hi, how are you?” but in India they might say “Did you have your lunch?” The common response is “Yes, I had my lunch and it was good.” If you say “No I didn’t have my lunch” then people may get concerned and may want to offer you food. This is very different from American culture. Common mistakes that Indians might make when they answer “how are you?” is that they might give too much information and details when it’s more of a greeting, not a question.
  •  Asking people where they live: In the US we might ask a general question, like “Where do you live?” but in India they may build on this question and ask “What street do you live on?” “What side of the street do you live on?” but in the US these more specific questions would feel like an invasion of privacy.
  •  Asking about the person’s relationship or marriage status: In India it’s much more common to ask “Are you married?” If you ask an American this question too early they might think you are romantically interested in them. On the other hand, if this question isn’t asked in India then people may become offended. This is an example of a drastic difference in small talk across cultures!


Clearly, small talk can create problems if don’t look beyond vocabulary and grammar.

We need to look at culture on a deeper level.

What topics are acceptable?

How are certain questions received in different cultures?

 Let us know your questions in the comments section below.
Jennifer’s Bio:
Jennifer Kumar, is the Managing Director of Authentic Journeys based in Kochi,India.
She has provided cross-cultural preparation for over 2,000 global offshore or expat professionals working with Americans.
While about 70% of those served work offshore, remotely with their US, Canadian or English counterparts, the other 30% go onsite to client sites in the US, Canada or the UK for short, long-term or permanent expat assignments.


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  • Culture Shock between the US and India :
    1) the US : Hi, how are you ? / How is your day going ? ( a greeting )
    2) India : Did you have your lunch ? ( a question style greeting ) ; Yes, I had my lunch and it was good ( give positive response )

    3) the US : Where do you live ? ( general )
    4) India : What ( side of the ) street do you live on ? ( specific )

    5) the US : NOT acceptable to ask the person’s marriage status / relationship ( taboo )
    6) India : Are you married ? How many children do you have ? How old are you ? Do you live with your in-laws ? ( common )

  • condensatore_alfa

    It would have been a very interesting topic if your guest wasn’t inside a pressure cooker. 😀

  • Thank you for building on these answers and examples, Mollie.
    About answering yes to ‘Did you eat?’ I totally agree to this. Why? Often if we say no or hesitate, people may try to feed us! I remember once I came to a training program at 2pm in India. 2pm was the scheduled time, right after lunch as lunch is 1-2. As I was traveling during the lunch hour, I noted I did not have lunch due to travel. The manager said, “Then you must eat before taking the training.” He went to order me a full lunch and bring it to me. They refused to even let me in the training room until I finished eating!

  • Oh yes, my recording sounds muffled in some places. Thank you for listening.